Causes & Effects of Impulse Control Disorder

Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of impulse control and get help for your child, teen, or young adult.

Understanding Impulse Control

Learn about impulse control

When a child or adolescent is struggling with an impulse control disorder, he or she often has the desire to control impulses despite the intrusive obsessions, compulsions, and preoccupations that envelop the thought processes of these individuals. These processes of thoughts are often overwhelming to sufferers and the resulting effect is giving into the impulses regardless of their potential for harm. The following conditions are examples of impulse control disorders that involve these intrusive thoughts and subsequent behaviors:

Kleptomania: Stealing is the focus of those who are diagnosed with kleptomania. People with this illness often have the awareness that stealing is not socially acceptable and is an illegal activity, yet still struggle to resist the urge to take what does not belong to them.

Intermittent explosive disorder: Children and adolescents who suffer from intermittent explosive disorder, also known as IED, often present with physical and emotional outbursts of anger that are not appropriate responses to the initial trigger that caused them. Young people with IED may damage property, become violent towards others, or instigate violence by being hostile towards caregivers, peers, or other individuals.

Pyromania: When a youth experiences intense urges to ignite things on fire, he or she is most like suffering from pyromania. Children and adolescents with this mental health condition are at risk of injuring themselves or others as the behavior associated with this illness can cause a great deal of destruction and physical injury.

Compulsive sexual behaviors: Intense urges to constantly masturbate, engage in promiscuous or voyeuristic behavior, partake in exhibitionism or fetishism, or frequently watching pornography are signs that infer a person is struggling with compulsive, sexually maladaptive behaviors. Cornerstone to these behaviors is the intrusive compulsions to engage in sexual behavior regardless of the harm to self or others.

Treatment for Impulse Control Disorders is available and can significantly reduce the harmful effects that are known to be caused by the presence of such disorders. Furthermore, care for impulse control disorders can improve the lives of young people who suffer from them as treatment can instill new methods for coping and improve the self-esteem of children and adolescents afflicted with this form of mental illness.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for impulse control

Several studies on impulse control disorders have suggested that there are a certain causes and risk factors that cause a person to develop these types of mental health conditions. Genes, psyiological composition, influences from a person’s environment, and other risk factors are believed to greatly impact the onset of an impulse control disorder’s symptoms. The following elaborations on these beliefs are discussed below:

Genetic: Mental health experts and researchers have deduced that impulse control disorders can be inherited from one’s biological parent or parents. This finding was concluded when it was found that impulse control disorders are prevalent among people who share genes.

Physical: Everyone possesses chemicals in their brains that regulate impulses. Children and adolescents who suffer from impulse control disorders are known to have imbalanced chemicals that perform this function, and subsequently present with symptoms synonymous with an impulse control disorder. Additionally, people with impulse control disorders are known to have imbalanced neurochemicals that hinder mood regulation and the ability to form memories.

Environmental: The manifestation of an impulse control disorder’s symptoms can be triggered by certain environmental circumstances. Children and adolescents who are raised in chronically stressful home environments, or who are exposed to violence or overt aggression, are vulnerable to the development of an impulse control disorder. Lastly, young persons who are victims of abuse or neglect, experience trauma, or are intensely bullied by peers are more susceptible to this type of mental health condition.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Being of younger age
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Family history of impulse control disorders or other mental illnesses
  • Being the victim of a trauma
  • Exposure to violence
  • Experiencing abuse and/or neglect
  • Exposure to aggression
  • Family or personal history of substance use, abuse, or addiction

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of impulse control

The signs and symptoms of an impulse control disorder can sometimes be obvious depending on the disorder. However, some symptoms may not be so observable. If you feel your child is struggling with this type of mental illness, it is crucial that treatment is sought to lessen the severity or eliminate the following signs and symptoms of an impulse control disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Lying
  • Omitting
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Promiscuity
  • Overtly aggressive behaviors towards people
  • Destruction of property
  • Starting fires
  • Stealing

Physical symptoms:

  • Physical injuries as a result of acting out behaviors
  • Burns due to starting fires
  • Presence of sexually transmitted diseases or infections due to engaging in risky sexual behavior

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Obsessive thinking
  • Easily agitated
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Excessive irritability
  • Poor concentration

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of regret
  • Abrupt mood changes
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Detached feeling from emotions and surroundings
  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of guilt


Effects of impulse control

Due to the lack of power a person has over impulses when an impulse control disorder is present, there are various effects and consequences that are known to take place when a person does not receive care to alleviate symptoms of such a disorder. When a young person struggles to control impulses, the following are known to occur:

  • Development of another mental illness
  • Substance abuse, addiction, and/or dependence
  • Academic failure
  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Expulsion from school
  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Inability to form relationships with others
  • Inability to acquire or maintain a job
  • Physical injury from engaging in risky behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Impulse control and co-occurring disorders

Impulse control disorders, especially when children and adolescents suffer from them, can bring about symptoms of another mental illness. Additionally, other mental health conditions can trigger the onset of an impulse control disorder. The following disorders are co-occurring disorders that can appear at the same time as an impulse control disorder:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Conduct disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders

I feel so much happier and healthier after getting help at Millcreek of Pontotoc.

– A former patient